Puerto Escondido: Markets, Turtles, and Phosphorescence

Needing groceries (the hotel has a community kitchen), Ty and I, accompanied by Helen and Belinda, two Aussies also staying at the Swiss Oasis, hopped aboard the camionetta (a small pickup truck with bench seating in the back like Thai songthaews) to the market.

Puerto Escondido’s market is very clean and well maintained, with a good selection of food and small restaurants. We had a jugo verde at Myrna’s juice stand and tortas (for which Ty developed a taste in Guanajuato) for lunch,

bought a big bag full of produce, did a small walkabout downtown, and jumped on the camionetta once again for the trip back. Back at the ranch, I enjoyed a swim in the pool. Puerto Escondido is hot – the day after we arrived the temperature hit 38 degrees.

The Hotelito Swiss Oasis supports the Escondido economy by recommending local people with whom to do eco-tours. Brandy had done a turtle release and lagoon tour and highly recommended it, so yesterday evening was the moment to give it a go. Chop (not sure about the spelling), a fellow who lives at the lagoon, arrived to pick us up at 6:40 and we were off in his car to Playa Delfin (Dolphin Beach), a twenty five kilometer long beach a ways north of Escondido, to release turtles.

This beach is almost deserted along its length; a few housing developments, most shuttered or unfinished, dot the area, and one small town lies near its middle but other than that, the beach is undeveloped.

It is home to a couple of species of endangered sea turtles, the Green Turtle and the Leatherback (although leatherbacks are rare in this part of the world, apparently). We were driven to the turtle release area, which consists of a couple of small camping tents, a wooden lean-to, two quad motorcycles, three nesting areas, and one crazy dog who keeps the fellow who looks after the area company.

This place is a one man operation; the caretaker works here alone, without pay, subsisting on the tips of people who visit to participate in the turtle release. He live here all year round in one of the small tents.

This evening, in addition to Ty, myself, and Coco, there was a van load of Mexican tourists for the release of four baby turtles, three tiny greens and one larger leatherback, born that morning and ready to start their life in the ocean. The four turtles were kept in a small pink plastic tub and, after we washed our hands, we were allowed to pick up and examine them (I wasn’t sure about the merits of handling them …).

After waiting for a while to watch the sun descend in the sky, and watching a couple of kids pretend to be turtles crossing the sand, the moment for the release arrived. The caretaker drew a line in the sand and told us that we weren’t allowed to go beyond it.

I had thought that we would guide the turtles down the beach but that wasn’t the case; once released from the tub, they must make their own way down the beach to the water without human help. This enables their location to imprint and helps to ensure that they can return to this beach later on; if we simply put them into the water, or helped them out, they would likely die.

All of us lined up and each small group was given one turtle; we received the leatherback and I put it on the ground facing in the direction of the ocean. It started moving towards the water but then got disoriented and headed back up to us again. I really wanted to pick it up and turn it around but the guide said that we must leave it to make its own way. It was painful to watch the four tiny beasts attempt to crawl towards the ocean and life.

“Our” turtle, the largest and strongest of the bunch, figured out the correct direction and headed off at a fast crawl towards the huge waves; finally, after a couple of false starts, a large wave caught it, and lifted it out to sea – we all clapped.

This same process was repeated for each of the other three, one of whom was particularly weak. Although they all reached the sea eventually, the weakest one had to be helped out a couple of times by being lifted down towards the water (I don’t think that it will survive, unfortunately).

After it was washed out to sea by a wave, one of the tiny turtles was washed in again farther down the beach by another wave; Ty saw it struggling and gently put it back in the water again – hopefully it will live.

I found the whole experience very moving; it’s hard to believe that these creatures, only one day old, have to go through that onerous process in order to begin their lives. Very few turtles survive; many die on their way to the ocean, picked off by predators, and many die in the ocean from ingesting plastics they mistake for jellyfish. Cut up all plastics before disposing of them and don’t dump plastic – better still, don’t use plastic.

After the turtle release, which probably took about two hours or so, we were off north again to the six kilometer long Manialtepec Lagoon, a body of water surrounded by mangrove swamp vegetation, its tropical climate lending itself to a diverse ecosystem. Dozens of migratory bird species such as herons and ducks make Manialtepec lagoon their home at various times of the year. Chop told us that, in addition to birds and fish, crocodiles live here.

We, and six other people, boarded the small tour boat and headed out on the cloudless night to tour the lagoon and see the phosphorescence created by the water’s phytoplankton. Beside the boat, we could see streaks of bright silver zipping hither and yon; these were fish. Running our hands through the water produced long streaks of brilliant white and silver; resting in the lagoon, our hands appeared white and skeletal because of the phosporescence. Encouraged by Chop, several people, including Coco, jumped in and swam,

their bodies making white and silver patterns in the dark – fabulous (unfortunately, it was impossible to get a decent picture of the phosphorescence). We were told that, in the rainy season, the area is completely dark and the falling rain makes the entire lagoon shine brilliantly against the black background. That would be amazing to see.

See more pics here.

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